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Storyboard Deadlines … Storyboard Timelines

Steve Hulett / March 16, 2016

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A veteran board artist writes:

I’ve been doing TV storyboards for 25 years and this deadline thing is really getting ridiculous.

It was insane when they moved the deadline for 11 minutes of board from 6 to 5 weeks but 4 weeks for a finished board is NUTS. I am assuming that this squeezing of the deadline screws is just as bad for the rest of the preproduction folks out there but since storyboards are my area, I cover what I know best.

Here are the facts: every panel for a television storyboard based on a written script takes 10 – 20 minutes AVERAGE per panel WITHOUT revision time included. This is also based on a board that is done on paper with out adding the timing or dialogue tracts required in Toonboom Storyboard Pro or Adobe Flash.

So the fact is we are all doing a lot of unpaid overtime and not doing anything about it. If your production manager says that someone else is able to do the work in the 4 week time frame that 4 weeks is really 6 weeks and they have no life.

My suggestions :

1. KEEP TRACK OF YOUR TIME. Get one of those little paper book diaries and write down how many hours you REALLY work every day. You will understand yourself how much you are working, and you will have physical proof to show anyone exactly what’s going on.

2. TALK TO OTHERS. Don’t just complain, get a real consensus of what is happening and get them to keep track of their time as well.

3. GIVE A COPY OF TV STORYBOARD TIME REQUIREMENTS to your Production Manager / Associate Producer. If you are afraid to hand it to them personally, slip it under their door. If they actually read it, It might give them an understanding why they can never seem to get “those slow board artists” to turn in their storyboards on time. …

The Veteran Board Artist estimates the time that the storyboarding will actually take. …


NOTE: The following is based on the actual PHYSICAL time requirements to create a storyboard for TV animation. Although there is some variance to the speed at which artists draw, the following is based on the AVERAGE time needed to create the necessary work based on a script with equal parts action and acting and NO REVISIONS.

The following is what is required in any fully cleaned-up panel of storyboard:

1. Suggested background
2. An on-model character – either a) establishing and/or b) acting / expressing story point.
3. Scene description, and camera action. special effects description.
4. (TBSBP) Initial rough timing / anamatic set-up

MINIMUM time required to complete panel: 10 minutes/panel

Average Time: 20 minutes/panel

(A complicated action with camera moves and armies can take over an hour.)

For a 3 act script consisting of 36 – 40 pages:

#Panels / script page: 24 – 36 (8 -12 bd.pgs.) Time: 8 – 12 hrs, 1- 1.5 8 hr days*

#Panels / 1 minute of film: 60 – 72 (20 – 24 bd.pgs.) Time: 20 – 24 hrs, 2.5 – 3 8b hr days*

#Panels / 7 minute film: 420 – 504 (140 – 168 bd.pgs) Time: 140 – 168 hrs., 17.5 – 21 8 hr days (3.5-4wks)*

# Panels / 11 minute film: 660 – 792 (220 – 264 bd. pgs) Time: 220 – 264 hrs., 27.5 – 33 “ “ (5.5 – 6wks)*

# Panels / 22 minute film: 1320 – 1584 (440 – 528 bd. pgs) Time: 440 – 528 hrs., 55 – 66 “ “ (11 – 12wks)*

* (Time is based on average time of 20 minutes x panel count WITHOUT revisions and going straight to cleanup. If revisions are required, multiply all times above by 1.25X)

!!(Special Note: ACTION takes at least 2-3 times the amount of drawings that acting does. If the show is heavy on action, multiply numbers given above by 2X to compensate for the additional drawing and panels needed)!!

If working in Toonboom Storyboard Pro add .25X to the equation for the additional amount of work added to create a working animatic.

Simple formulas for calculating adjustments to the average time:

Average Show

Hrs x .75 thumbnail and rough only
Hrs. x 1 finished board no revisions
Hrs. x 1.25 finished board with revisions on the roughs
Hrs. x 1.5 finished board with revisions on the roughs in TBSBP

Action / Comedy Heavy Show

Hrs. x 2 action heavy board no revisions
Hrs x 2.5 heavy action board with revisions the on roughs
Hrs x 2.75 heavy action board with revisions on the roughs in TBSB


Parameters of 10 – 20 minutes for each panel described above is not an arbitrary figure. Consider the analysis below for the explanation of why it takes this amount of time for a professional storyboard artist to produce each frame for a cartoon’s blue print. Consider that every panel of storyboard requires the three steps: Planning, Drawing and

Usually a board artist considers a minimum of a scene at a time (3-10 panels) and how that scene works within a sequence (1/4 – 1 script page) and how that sequence works within a section (1 – 3 script pages) then how the sections work into each other and to the full script.

Storyboarding for animation is NOT just rapidly drawing a sketch. Even if a story artist is doing a pitch session and is quickly throwing up post-its, those sketches have to be taken down, reworked, and put into a blueprint like format so that the team working on the film can use them effectively.

Storyboarding for television requires that the artist do the following jobs: storyboarding as layout; writer of all action and gags and clerk for scene descriptions dialogue, action and camera action; and initial acting, action, camera, and timing direction. Also, sometimes, they are background, prop and character designer. All characters are required to be as close to “model” as possible, many times without the artist ever having drawn the characters before.

Every panel created requires the following:

1. Planning: reading the script to decide on the image

A. Staging – where and how to set up the shot in relation to:

1) Location choice
2) Camera position
3) Composition
4) Camera motion
5) Emotional Note
6) Cutting, timing and transitions

B. Acting – How the character(s) are to act in the shot with relation to

1) Personality of the character
2) Style of the show
3) Event taking pace
4) Actual action the character must commit
5) Point of dialogue delivery
6) Plot through line
7) Break down of action over successive panels
8) Action of relationship between multiple characters and their reactions

C. Continuity – maintenance of continued visual plot points

1) Correct costumes, props and locations
2) On-model / character proportions and physical attributes
3) Maintaining continued existence of Point of Interest characters, props or costumes not associated with on screen action but necessary for story through line or plot (Example: Evenrude in
the Disney series “Tail Spin”)

2. Drawing : creating the image

A. Thumbnail – initial skeletal composition, staging, continuity, acting and action – work out unresolved story
and action neglected in script.

B. Rough – rework of initial ideas, draw in backgrounds, refine acting and action.

C. Cleanup – tighten all character acting and visual information.

3. Description: verbally describing the panel

A. Scene Description

1) Verbal description of action
2) Camera information
3) Staging requests (i.e. overlays, animating BG’s, Bi-pack)
B. Dialogue
C. Special Effects
3) Sound FX
4) Visual FX
5) Special timing requests

Here’s a given line of script: “The warriors attack the fort.” What has to be added that the writer left out? How many panels do you think it will take? How long will it take to execute??
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

* The above e-mail and attached notes were triggered by a recent discussion with a veteran production board artist who has worked at most of the major animation studios … and a good number of small ones … over the last two and a half decades. I made the suggestion that they send along their descriptions and break downs of the time needed to execute storyboards of different styles and types.

Happily, they already had estimates ready to go. I said we would post the whole kaboodle here on the blog, which we are now doing. Understand this is one veteran’s analysis of what’s required to execute a professional cartoon storyboard. Other artists’ mileage may vary.

— Steve Hulett

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3 comments on “Storyboard Deadlines … Storyboard Timelines

  1. disqus_SLw9G3wSOe

    Good advice Steve!

    Artists within this industry continue to get stepped on because they won’t stick together. They work against their own union, from what I can see, mainly because of their own egos getting in the way. Sometimes I wonder how they can get all those big heads in one conference room for storyboard meetings especially when the producers heads have already filled it.

    All kidding aside, Every animation artist should read Tom Sito’s book Drawing The Line. What is happening is nothing new but artists never seem to learn because there is always a naive new batch coming in every few years that fall for the same old tricks. The older artists need to mentor each new hire and educate them on the studios sometimes underhanded tactics.

  2. skywryter

    It’s a test to destruction. Producers are already finding it impossible to staff up, but no one wants to be the first to break the wage fixing agreement. It will continue to get worse until someone grabs a gun and goes on a rampage or everyone walks out. Preferably the later.

  3. Nikola

    Wow.I’m just starting in storyboarding for an youtube animations,and the guy in charge says that I have to be doing 3min of an action storyboard with me coming up with the story and the action in 2-3 days.As we are aiming for fast production.And he is complaining that it took me a week to do it.Am I to slow?I’m not doing cleanup,it’s just sketchy panels,but I end up making 2-3 panels to describe an action.Am I slow?Or his vision of 2-3 days even with an already approved script is just not realistic?

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